From the Annals of Gooseberry Bush
When I was in my mid to late twenties I was quite the raconteur. I used to have two or three stock funny stories that I would tell at parties or get-togethers. People would actually request these stories, like, “Gooseberry Bush, please tell us about the time you fell down three flights of stairs at the Collonade office building in Dallas,” or, “Gooseberry Bush, please tell my friend about the time those two boys tried to ‘carjack’ you outside the Half Price Books. Go ahead! This is good.”
The best one was definitely the story of how I drove myself to the emergency room after an allergic reaction to hair dye caused my whole body to swell and go into hives at 5:00 in the morning on a Sunday. That one’s a doozy. I’ll get around to telling it sometime. This story, though, is the story of how my car got pulled out of the mud by a bad ass drug dealer with chains.
When I was in college my mom had finally graduated from nursing school the year before. Because we were so poor before then, I actually qualified for a Pell grant for my first year of school. So, I think it’s pretty self explanatory that I did not have a car when I was in high school. We had one family car. That was it. I was lucky I was allowed to touch it, let alone drive it on my own. I didn’t get my drivers license until I was seventeen, and this happened after months of torture.
My dad had to teach me how to drive a stick shift, and he expected that I would drive it perfectly, as in Jesus himself could not parallel park on a hill any better than I could. He also did things like getting out of the car after I parked and inspecting to make sure that not only had I parked with enough room on both sides of the vehicle but that also the amount of room on both sides was equal. I’m not kidding you. He did everything short of pulling out a ruler and a chalk line.
My dad was something of a harsh task master anyway, and the fact that he had actually been a high school drivers education instructor and had a commercial drivers license that he had used to drive school busses and eighteen wheelers, well, that certainly didn’t help any. Consequently, when I finally got some freedom with a car I was giddy with joy. My parents bought a second car, a Honda civic hatchback that we later called the Munchcar, but that’s a different story.
The Munchcar was my ticket to something more closely resembling a life. Sure, I had friends who would cart me around everywhere, but now they didn’t need to anymore! The second car was purchased for me to share with my dad, who was by then a retired part time school bus driver. The deal was that when I graduated they would sign the title over to me, fair and square. I thought that was a deal! I’ll take it.
One day, with my newfound freedom, I was driving around Oklahoma City in the Munchcar when I decided to do something very stupid. Let me preface this by saying that it was dark, and it was raining. That’s just so the exact level of stupidity will sink in. I was on my way to help a friend move, and the way to her apartment required me to exit off the Broadway Extension at, oh, I think it was 122nd Street, if I remember right, and turn right.
This friend was one that I spent a great deal of time with, and so I had used this road to get to her many, many times. I was, hmm, shall we say, intellectually challenged with directions, and I was unaware of an alternative route to take to get there. However, for a few weeks now, that road had been partially closed for construction. I can see that you can see already just where this is going. I usually ignored the construction signs and drove through anyway, and I certainly wasn’t the only one that did so. But perhaps especially in the dark in the rain, driving around the cones and barriers wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had.
Pretty soon, my car was stuck in the mud, the tires were turning but nothing was moving, except the tires. I was frustrated. It was dark and raining, and I was in a bad area of town, and most of all I was disgusted with myself about having done something unbelievably stupid. It was like the time that I was a frat party and accepted a drink from a strange boy who walked me up to one of the empty bedrooms and then later shut the door. It was that feeling, like, Holy shit, I have really fucked up. And I am so stupid that I will almost deserve what’s about to happen to me.
Then the next thing that happened was that I looked up and saw a family of African American kids. There must have been eight or ten of them, from the tallest who might have been a boy of seventeen to a little one who probably hadn’t started school yet. They were all walking single file in a line back to their home from a convenience store, I presume. They were carrying candy and snacks and sodas in their hands. They were like moving stair steps, with the tallest in front. It made me want to sing, “Hello, world. There’s a song that we’re singing. C’mon get happy.”
The tallest kid, a boy, noticed my difficulty, and he walked over and stuck his head in my car and smiled, “Are you stuck?”
I sighed, “Yes.”
“Let us try to push you out.”
I wasn’t about to argue with him. I had help. There was manpower, and all of them from the oldest boy to the tiniest girl, gathered around the Munchcar and tried to push me out as I followed the instructions of the oldest boy on how to drive a stick shift to rock it out of the mud rut that I’d carved for myself. Apparently, my thorough father’s instructions had left out the chapter about four wheeling in your Honda Civic hatchback.
When it became apparent that the car was still not going to budge, despite the best efforts of a clan of nice people, the oldest boy said, “Do you have someone you can call?”
I said, “My father will kill me.”
The boy nodded, like that was a distinct and literal possibility. “Come with us,” he said, “We can get you help. Deion will know what to do.”
Now I don’t know Deion. I don’t even know this kid. For all I know, Deion will murder me, then cut my body up into little parts and eat it like Jeffrey Dahmer, and this kid gets a finders fee for finding flies who land in the web of the construction zone. But what am I more afraid of? Strange and menacing possible serial killers in a bad neighborhood? Or the wrath of my father? Take me to your leader.
This whole incident in my life happened in the early ‘90s. So early that no one yet knew who George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston was. The kids all walked me, together, to Deion’s home, a small old duplex in a run down area of town. The outside looked like it had definitely seen better days. The oldest boy, taking charge again, knocked on the door.
An African American man who was somewhere between my age and maybe a decade older, answered the door, cell phone in hand, in the middle of a conversation. This was Deion. He wore a lot of gold jewelry and had a pager clipped to his waste. Now, in the early ‘90s, not many people had cell phones. And they kind of looked more like satellite phones look nowadays. I think we called them car phones back then. And the only people who carried pagers were doctors, emergency medical personnel, plumbers, and, dum-dum-dum…your friendly neighborhood drug dealer.
Deion and the kid had an exchange during which he explained my situation, and I stayed wide-eyed and completely silent. There was another man in the room, an African American guy who looked more middle class and, well, non-threatening to a little ol’ suburban white girl like me. He smiled at me as if sensing that I was scared to death, and he worked to put me at ease. The man told Deion and the kid that he had a truck and chains and that with Deion’s help, they could get my car out.
I was taking in my surroundings. Deion had a barking, snarling rottweiller in the backyard. And a man who lived in a poor neighborhood had every toy and gadget known to man. His clothes were designer. The furniture was brand new and expensive. The TV was bigger than me. There was a baby somewhere in the house. A playpen and toys were scattered all over the floor. I was wondering if I had stumbled into an episode of Miami Vice.
The kid left me alone with Deion and his friend, Deion’s baby mama, and an adorable boy baby that I assume was Deion’s son. The friend kept me company and was really pretty charming. Near as I could tell, Deion was the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, which also made him the equivalent of the “Godfatha” of the community. Presumably, by virtue of his money he could buy people out of jams and probably frequently did in order to ensure the silence and complicity of other people, given his livelihood. Or maybe Deion really was a nice man, although from the way he cussed on the phone, I wasn’t so sure.
Really, Deion’s phone conversations were the most vulgar filth you’ll ever hear this side of the hardest core gangsta rap. He made Eminem seem like Emily Post by comparison. But the funny thing is that both Deion and his friend went out of their way to be polite and kind to me. They never cussed at me. They offered me a seat. I was asked if I wanted something to drink. I was never referred to as anything other than a lady or by, “Miss.” They were almost deferential. I felt like Miss Scarlett. Forget Miami Vice. I’ve wandered onto the set of Gone with the Wind.
Once Deion got done with his business, he and his friend escorted me out, and true to his word, the friend used some chains to get my car out of the mud. Deion’s friend had undoubtedly figured out that I had figured out just exactly what Deion was. When I was ready to go, I was standing at the curb with the friend, and I said to him, “How can I ever thank you?” And he said, “Just tell people.” And so I do.